QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — The parents of a Swedish programmer suspected of plotting to blackmail Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno over his abandonment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange made an anxious plea Tuesday for authorities to release their son.
Dag Gustafsson acknowledged that his son, Ola Bini, had a friendship with Assange but said his ties with the hacker who lived in Ecuador’s London embassy while evading U.S. and British authorities for nearly seven years ends there.
“Ola is a friend of Julian Assange, nothing more,” he said, sitting before a screen with an image of his son, dressed in cap and smiling slightly.
The 36-year-old was arrested last Thursday at the airport in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito as he prepared to board a flight to Japan. The arrest came just hours after Moreno evicted Assange from the embassy, ending a prolonged ordeal over what do with one of the world’s highest-profile fugitives.
Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo contends that Bini traveled at least 12 times to meet with Assange at the London embassy. She said he was also in Venezuela earlier this year around the same time as a close aide to Moreno’s ex-mentor turned arch enemy, former President Rafael Correa, who granted Assange asylum in 2012.
Prosecutors have said they intend to charge Bini for hacking-related crimes and had him ordered detained for up to 90 days while they compile evidence.
Relatively little is known about Bini. Friends and loved ones have described him as a computer geek who felt most at ease solving complex programming problems. Though he had defended the WikiLeaks founder’s free speech rights in an online blog, his Ecuadorian girlfriend couldn’t recall him ever expressing strong support for Assange.
Gustafsson said his son works as a software developer for a non-profit organization and has a “burning passion” for freedom of speech and online personal integrity issues. He said he is convinced his son is innocent and will remain in Ecuador until he is released.
“For us, it’s surreal to think Ola is involved in these things, these accusations,” he said.
Carlos Soria, Bini’s lawyer, said several of his client’s judicial rights had been violated. He said authorities failed to swiftly notify the Swedish embassy of his detention, provide access to a lawyer or a translator. He said Bini also spent his first night of detention without access to food or water.
“That are a lot of irregularities that happened in his detention,” he said.
Moreno moved to swiftly end Assange’s asylum as relations between the silver-haired Australian and the South American nation grew increasingly tense. Ecuadorian authorities have accused Assange of creating conflict by meddling in international affairs, harassing staff and even smearing feces on the embassy’s walls.
Assange is in custody in London awaiting sentencing in Britain for skipping bail to avoid being sent to Sweden as part of an investigation into a rape allegation. The U.S. is also seeking his extradition after charging him with conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer system.